Joseph Mallord William Turner

A Mountain Stream, Perhaps Bolton Glen


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Not on display
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Mixed media and graphite on paper
Support: 448 x 591 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

Display caption

In subject and technique this has often been associated with the watercolours of Yorkshire scenes Turner made for Walter Fawkes circa 1809-18. The branches of the trees beyond the stream are indicated by drawing with the handle of the brush in wet paint, as often occurs in Turner's watercolours. The medium seems not to be pure oil but a resinous compound. Unusually among Turner's sketches in oil or related media, this was included in the 1857 display of the Turner Bequest at Marlborough House and may be one of two mountain stream subjects described in the catalogue as 'from' or 'evidently from' nature.

Gallery label, September 2004

Catalogue entry

212. [A00910] Mountain Stream, perhaps Bolton Glen c. 1810–15


Oil over pencil on paper, 17 5/8 × 23 1/4 (44·5 × 59)

Watermarked ‘WHATMAN 1801’

Coll. Turner Bequest 1856; transferred to Tate Gallery 1910.

Exh. On loan to the National Museum of Wales 1964–75.

Lit. Ruskin 18572 (1903–12, xiii, pp. 266, 310); Armstrong 1902, p. 225; MacColl 1920, p. 27.

Dated c. 1810 by MacColl and close in its subject and technique, allowing for the change in medium, to the watercolours of Yorkshire scenes painted for Walter Fawkes c. 1809–18. The drawing with the brush-handle in the wet paint to indicate the branches of the trees on the far side of the stream parallels that on one of the earliest of the group of watercolours, Bolton Abbey, Wharfedale, signed and dated 1809 (British Museum 1910-2-12-282; repr. Butlin 1962, colour pl. 4, and Wilton 1979, p. 360 no. 532). The composition resembles such watercolours as A Rocky Pool with Heron and Kingfisher in Leeds City Art Gallery (repr. Wilton 1979, p. 362 no. 542 where dated c. 1815). In addition there are a number of sketches of similarly rugged river scenery, some even with tiny figures of fishermen as in this work, in the ‘Yorkshire 4’ and ‘Yorkshire 5’ sketchbooks of c. 1816 (CXLVII and CXLVIII).

This work has recently been re-examined by the Tate Gallery Conservation Department and it now seems doubtful whether any oil paint is involved; the medium in the thicker areas of paint seems to be a resinous one. As the inventory number suggests, this picture does not seem to have been numbered among the oils when the first batch were inventoried in 1856. The earliest use of the number 461a is in E.T. Cook's A Popular Handbook to the National Gallery, published in 1888. Although it does not appear in the edition of the National Gallery catalogue published that year, it does appear in the edition for 1889. Up to then, and indeed for some years after, the work seems to have been classed among drawings and sketches but with an annotation that it was in oil. This is the case in Ruskin's Catalogue of the Sketches and Drawings by J.M.W. Turner, R.A. exhibited in Marlborough House in the Year 1857–8, first published in 1857, though it is not clear whether this is no. 66 in frame 34 (‘Study in oil of a Mountain Stream, from nature’) or no. 285 in frame 128 in the Supplemental Series (‘A Mountain Stream. Painted in oil, evidently from nature’); the editors of the collected edition identify it as the latter. In Ruskin's Catalogue of the Drawings and Sketches by J.M.W. Turner, R.A., at present in the National Gallery, first published in 1881, this latter work is listed as no. 71 (formerly Kensington no. 128) as ‘Rocks in Bolton glen’ while the other work is listed as no. 72 (Kensington no. 34) as ‘Torrent bed. One of the studies made at the date of Ivy Bridge’ (in the collected edition, xiii, p. 367, which apparently uses the lists from the third edition of 1899 though the critical notes do not make this clear, the first item is replaced by ‘Folly Bridge and Bacon's Tower, Oxford, 1787’, though the preparatory note still mentions two ‘specimens of his sketching in oil’). Ruskin's lists, with their fluctuations, were also included at the end of the successive editions of the National Gallery catalogue of British Paintings until as late as 1895, which suggests that, from 1888 onwards, A Mountain Stream was in fact listed in two places at once.

Published in:
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984

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